In the immortal words of former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold, “As your Downtown goes, so goes your city.” So then, how are things Downtown going today?
The number of Downtown residents is the highest it’s been in decades, and residential properties are more than 90% occupied. Downtown office vacancy rates continue to drop each year. Crime in Downtown accounts for only 2% of serious crime in the entire City of Jacksonville. And, Downtown has more parking than Disney World, not including Animal Kingdom.
Downtown champions are hard at work. The Cultural Council has created a Spark Grant program for Downtown revitalization through the arts. The Elbow, Downtown’s nightlife and entertainment district, brings together more than two-dozen businesses, all locally owned and operated. Events and ventures like One Spark, and now KYN, make Downtown a haven for entrepreneurs.
From where I sit, in my office on the corner of Adams and Hogan streets, it’s not just that the numbers are adding up, but there’s a tangible excitement in the air. You see, Downtown is not just a job for me, it’s a passion. I’m the director of marketing for Downtown Vision, Inc. (DVI), Jacksonville’s Downtown Improvement District (DID), and my goal is to tell the story of Downtown.
Let me get technical for a moment in case you’re unfamiliar. A DID is created by commercial property owners within a downtown area when they see a need for services over-and-above what their city government provides. They pay a self-assessed tax based on property values to fund the organization, which then tailors its services to fit the needs of its district. In essence, a DID acts like a homeowners association. More than 1,000 exist in the U.S., and New York City has more than 67 alone. They exist in most of the 50 largest cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
Downtowns are a fascinating subject. But if you’re not convinced yet, here’s why you should care: Downtowns are a source of community identity, culture, history and pride. A thriving downtown attracts new businesses, jobs and a diverse workforce, keeping dollars in the community and enhancing the quality of life for the entire city.
And so, DVI works as the management arm of Downtown Jacksonville to enhance the quality of life for Downtown property owners, and in turn, Downtown employees, residents and everyone who visits. Our resume includes everything from removing graffiti on the columns of the new County Courthouse to advocating for historic preservation to arranging dining promotions with two-dozen restaurants during their slowest time of the year. Our job is to pull all the pieces together.
DVI’s team of smiling Downtown Ambassadors in their orange shirt and pith helmets, are hard at work seven days a week to make Downtown cleaner, safer and friendlier. After all, you have to clean house before you have guests over. We’ve welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests over the years to more than 750 event days we’ve programmed, including the award-winning First Wednesday Art Walk. We leased more than 50,000 square feet of vacant retail space to artists with the Off the Grid initiative in partnership with the Cultural Council. We tell people what’s going on, where to go, and how to park at our resource for all things Downtown, downtownjacksonville.org. Nobody knows Downtown better than us!
And we’re just getting started. Through a partnership with the new Downtown Investment Authority we’re able to do more to attract and retain businesses. Through a partnership with the Downtown Marketing Collaborative, we’re able to reach more people. And, through a partnership with Greenscape and The Paul Bryan Group, we’re launching new beautification initiatives starting in Hemming Plaza.
It’s an exciting time to be Downtown, and I look forward to sharing exciting news and insights on Downtown each month with you. Until then, subscribe to weekly “Things to Do” and Monthly Update e-newsletters, and learn more about our vision for Downtown, by reading our white paper: “Turning the Corner: Rethinking and Remaking Downtown” at dtjax.org. Or, let us take you on a walking tour of Downtown and show you around: contact me at [email protected]. You can also read our blog at blogdtjax.com or follow us on Twitter @DTJax.